BREWER, Maine — Sometimes it’s hard to get young basketball players to play defense, because the superficial glory in the sport often comes on the offensive end.
But players on the Brewer High School basketball team are having no trouble focusing on the defensive end so far this season, because that defensive commitment is leading to offensive opportunities — and plenty of victories, too.
The Witches’ aggressive man-to-man defense forced 32 Skowhegan turnovers Tuesday night, helping Ben Goodwin’s club improve its record to 8-1 with a 65-45 victory over the Indians.
“Pretty much our defense is our offense,” said senior swingman Dom Drake, who led Brewer with 16 points and four blocked shots. “We come out and play defense as a team, not individually, and when we pressure the ball as a team it causes turnovers or havoc for the other team.”
Ray Bessette added 14 points for Brewer, which outscored 6-3 Skowhegan 40-9 during a 10-minute stretch of the second half after the Indians crept within 24-22 on a jumper by Paul Verville with 5:57 left in the third quarter.
Then came the most important offensive possession of the night for Brewer, as Jordan Richards drove the right baseline and was fouled while muscling home a layup.
“I just wanted to try and get to the rack to get us going again,” said Richards. “I just wanted to get a hoop to put us back up.”
The senior forward added the free throw, and Brewer’s momentum quickly was restored.
“One of the great things about us is that we keep our composure,” said Goodwin. “When they cut it to two, we just came down, ran our offense and got a good look out of it.
“We don’t rely on one person to score, we’ve got a great team and I think that’s really showing so far this year.”
Skowhegan maintained contact briefly, as a follow-up basket by Verville kept the Indians within 35-27 before Brewer erupted for 10 unanswered points over the final minute of the third period.
Center Nate Carson made a 3-pointer, then blocked a Verville shot to set up a layup by Drake off a no-look feed from Tyler Bessette. Tyler Bessette followed by driving the baseline for a three-point play, and younger brother Ray Bessette stole the ball and fed Yuhi Sasaki for a layup that closed out the period with Brewer lead-ing 45-27.
Brewer then opened the fourth quarter with five straight points, part of a 19-4 run that gave the Witches their biggest lead at 64-31 on a 3-pointer by Brad Billings midway through the final period.
“I challenge the kids every day in practice to play defense,” said Goodwin, whose team is allowing an average of 51.0 points per game and has allowed just one foe to score more than 57 in a contest so far this winter.
“Defense is something we focus on, to get up in the passing lanes and cause some turnovers, and the kids put stretches together where they show they can play very well.”
The win moved Brewer into first place in the Eastern Maine Class A Heal point standings, and the Witches are now idle until hosting second-ranked Hampden Academy on Saturday night.
Verville led 6-3 Skowhegan with a game-high 18 points.